Gioia brings area groups together in fight against graffiti

By James DeWeese

For decades, a host of community-based groups have waged a successful but ultimately unconnected campaign of power washing and painting against the spray-painted scrawlings of neighborhood vandals. Now City Councilman Eric Gioia (D-Sunnyside) is hoping to capitalize on the groups' success by organizing them into a neighborhood-wide network.Gioia announced Friday he had secured $85,000 in city funding to establish a graffiti task force that will help coordinate the efforts of the hundreds of graffiti-clean up volunteers who make up the community groups.”Nothing makes a good neighborhood look worse than graffiti – it's an invitation to criminals and a sign of neglect to visitors,” Gioia said. “What we hope to do is have a united front against this plague of graffiti.”Among the groups that will share information, pool their resources and create an economy of scale in their anti-graffiti efforts are decades-old mainstays of the Woodside-Sunnyside civic community: Sunnyside United Neighborhood Network, Woodside on the Move, the United Forties Civic Association and the 114th Precinct COP group. The DOE Fund will also assist.”Many of us here really started on this at the grassroots level with a vision and handful of volunteers,” said Lew Story, director of Sunnyside United. “Through Eric (Gioia) we're trying to put all these little successes together.”If the model of coordinated, grassroots efforts proves successful, Gioia said he hopes to see it take root in other neighborhoods across Queens and the city.The Woodside-Sunnyside groups have garnered immense support from the neighborhoods they serve, organizers said. On any given clean-up project, hundreds of volunteers show up, Story said. Tom Ryan, executive director of Woodside on the Move, said his group also enlists teens in its summer youth employment program and others who have court-mandated community service.The youth participation in clean-up projects, Ryan said, serves a dual purpose: Graffiti gets removed and the participants become less likely to vandalize walls and storefronts they themselves have cleaned up.That's good news for the neighborhood, said 114th COP President Jim Pollock.”When we go out and clean up the buildings, the property value goes up,” Pollock said.Reach reporter James DeWeese by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 157.

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